The 3,800 Club: This is all perfectly normal
I named it. My tumour, that is. Its name is Olive.
Now before you start thinking I’ve lost it, let me explain.
When I first went to my family doctor about the lump I found in my breast, she described it as being “about the size of an olive."
An olive is a whole lot less scary than a tumour, so the lump in my breast got a name.
A few days before Olive was set to be surgically removed, one of my friends hosted a party for me and our close friend who had also just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was a "going away" party and posters declared it an "olive-free zone."
We had a ceremonial olive smashing. And I’m happy to say one of my nurses recently told me this is all "perfectly normal."
We laughed a lot that night. We cried too. It was moments like those that carried me through the next days.
When doctors had told me a few weeks earlier that I had invasive breast cancer, I was given the option of a lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy that would likely mean no radiation.
My mom had already gone through breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy, then endured a second surgery after it was discovered that, as the doctors say, the "margins were not deep enough." She also went through radiation. I knew her story and I didn’t want to risk a repeat in my own life. Plus, doctors had red-flagged a second area in my breast for possible cancer. I wanted the cancer out of me, so I opted for a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. The surgeon would also take out several lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread.
Surgery day should have been super stressful, and yet I felt at peace.
I was surrounded by friends and family and an amazing medical team in Surrey, including my general surgeon (whose father, it turns out, had been my parents’ doctor many years before and even delivered some of my siblings).
My mom made us belly laugh while we waited. My nurses were not just professional, but kind. They answered my every question. I felt confidence in the people caring for me.
I envisioned getting wheeled into an operating room that day. But when the time came, I simply walked down a long hallway in my super-fashionable hospital gown and climbed onto the operating table. And then I suddenly felt very small.
The surgeon asked my name, asked me to reiterate what procedure i was having. The courage I felt all day seemed to evaporate. I choked up as I answered and I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe that’s a good thing. When i woke up, I was in the recovery room, a kind nurse checking on me. And pretty soon I was surrounded by family and some close friends.
My surgery took place at the Jimmy Pattision Outpatient Centre in Surrey, emphasis being on outpatient. You go home the same day you have a mastectomy. I was initially shocked at hearing that. But for me, it turned out to be a good thing. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. When the nurses felt confident the nausea I was battling was under control, it was time to get out of there. I literally did a little dance as I got into the wheel chair, a nurse gently scolding me to behave myself.
Before you can leave after surgery, you have to assure your medical team that you will have someone with you around-the-clock for the first 24 hours. My friends and family not only covered that day, but made sure someone was always there for the next seven. They took care of the drainage tube, made meals, cleaned my house, even washed my hair because you can’t shower until after the drainage tubes come out. I truly felt blessed.
There were definitely some tough days after surgery, both emotionally and physically. The side effects from the painkillers did a number on my stomach. The only time I ever remember being in so much pain was during childbirth. But I got through it, and for me, that’s what counts.
As I healed, I waited for the surgical pathology report. When it came two weeks later, it would be good news! It showed that the cancer, though invasive, was contained to the surgical area and not found in my lymph nodes. There was a second "in situ" cancer found but again it had all been removed. It seemed I’d made the right choice. As for Olive, my tumour was about two centimetres. My cancer was considered Stage 1! I still needed to see an oncologist but I thought my treatment was done. I told everyone I was home free.
I was wrong.
Michele Brunoro will be providing ongoing updates during her medical leave on her blog, The 3,800 Club.
If you or a loved one is going through cancer and you have questions or just need to talk to someone, the Canadian Cancer Society has great supports in place.